Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013; Second Reading
I rise reluctantly now to speak on the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013, given that the government has now forced this bill on this parliament, having had a majority of members of this place—albeit a simple majority, not an absolute majority—seek to prevent that and allow this bill to go through a proper process of consultation, for a regulatory impact statement to be provided and for there to be the research that is necessary to establish whether the premise of the bill is correct and there is indeed the problem that the government seeks to assert. The government having used its minority numbers to prevent the absolute majority required in the recent votes, we will now debate this bill.
This bill is an attack on those who come to Australia the right way to divert attention from this government's failure to do anything about those who come the wrong way, illegally by boat, which continues at record levels. These measures are designed not to improve the 457 skilled migration program, which is so important to this country, but to choke that program at the behest of the unions, choking the scheme with union red tape. This bill—and the reckless rhetoric of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and those from that side of the House who also decided to join in—ends decades of bipartisan support for skilled migration in this country. It goes against the grain of our immigration tradition.
A few months ago, prior to February, there was a minister for immigration who actually supported skilled migration. That all changed when Minister Bowen was removed from that portfolio and replaced with Minister O'Connor. One of the things that changed on that day was that the union movement got hold of immigration policy in this country. The bill before the House today is proof of that, because prior to that time the previous minister was engaged in a very sensible process through the skilled migration advisory council that had received recommendations from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship that required only routine housekeeping measures that would have assisted with the administration of that scheme. The vast majority, if not all, of those measures could have been introduced by regulation, none of which substantially required legislation at all.
But what happened in February was that the Prime Minister and the minister for immigration decided to go and attack skilled migrants in this country. Of all places, they decided to do it in Western Sydney, where there are thousands upon thousands—tens or hundreds of thousands—of people who have come to this country as skilled migrants or are the second or third generation, or fourth generation indeed, in the families of skilled migrants who came to this country.
It is bad enough that this government has failed so badly on our borders and allowed people to come willy-nilly and illegally enter this country, and that the government is in denial about it. The communities in this country who, frankly, are so offended by this government's failure on our borders are those communities who came to Australia the right way. What the government is saying in this bill is that it has a problem with those who come to Australia the right way but it has no problem, it would seem, with those who come the wrong way. That is what sits at the heart of what we see here, and it is even seen in the way that these bills have come before this parliament.
The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, in particular, and the government, sat on their hands while an important bill that had been supported by the coalition on this side of the House in November of last year to excise the Australian mainland—which was one of the recommendations of the Houston panel—wasted away up in the Senate until the opposition had to force the government to actually go and act on that bill. So on a matter of border security the government is happy to do nothing for months and months on end when it comes to matters that come before this House and the other place. But when it comes to their union mates they cannot get a bill into this place fast enough and seek to ram it through at every opportunity, even in the dying days of this 43rd Parliament. No request from the union movement to this government is too small for them to act upon, as if it was the most urgent issue facing the nation, because this is a government which have completely sold out to the demands of the union movement in the area of immigration policy and engaged in this grubby attack on skilled migrants to this country. They should be ashamed of themselves.
This bill has been strongly criticised by employers, industry groups, the Migration Council of Australia and labour market experts, including the government's own advisers, who have universally indicated there is no evidence, including from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, to support the suggestions of alleged widespread rorting by the minister. Labor are attempting to ram this through in what is nothing less than an attack on skilled migrants and, frankly, an insult to the tradition in this country which is seen at its best in projects like the Snowy Mountains Scheme and the Warragamba Dam, which were built by skilled migrants. Their descendants who now live across Australia, and particularly in western Sydney, are now the targets of the government's rage when it comes to matters on migration, rather than the smugglers who support them and those who come illegally to this country.
Labor continues to belittle and demonise people working as overseas workers here in Australia. It is a grubby thing that this government is doing through this bill, when an alternative path which was being pursued by the previous minister for immigration was the more sensible, the more adult and the more responsible route. That was something that the coalition would have supported but instead we get this. That is why the coalition will not be supporting this bill.
The coalition has serious concerns about this bill, not the least the fact that it has no regulatory impact statement for schedule 2. There has not been proper consultation. This bill contains this bizarre back-to-the-future attempt to reintroduce labour market testing which operated from 1996 to 2001 and was found, independently, to be ineffective, costly and added a significant delay to employer recruitment action. An important program was doing a good job. A measure that the government seeks to introduce was found not to be helping that task and it was abolished. But most concerning is that the bill is based on a false premise. The government, and the minister in particular, have completely made up the numbers regarding widespread rorting and abuse of the 457 program. From the outset we have said to the government, 'Present your case, show us the research, give us the numbers, demonstrate how this area of the migration program has been subject to anything more than the types of regular abuse you would expect under any other scheme.' The answer has been silence—with crickets—because there is nothing there. This is nothing more than jumped-up rhetoric for the Prime Minister to try and deflect attention from her woeful administration and oversight in her government of Australia's immigration program, particularly in relation to the integrity of our borders.
The measures contained in this legislation require a parliamentary inquiry, and that is something we have been seeking. I hope that will occur, but this bill should never have been debated if this matter had been referred to a committee for that purpose. This is not an attempt by a responsible government to finetune a working program. This is an attempt to choke a program. Instead, this bill is classic union overreach put in place by a minister dominated by union masters to do the bidding of the unions before the election because Labor needs the cash of the unions.
This bill seeks to introduce a number of additional compliance and onerous enforcement measures. These changes represent a major additional regulatory burden on business—more union red tape. Over 18,000 additional regulations have been introduced by this government on business and the community in this country since they have sat on that side of this chamber. Is it any wonder why businesses are struggling with innovation and competitiveness when they are spending all of their time being compliance officers for a regulatory-hungry Labor government? That is what happens.
This government think they are the answer to every problem, and they have solved not one of them. Yet they still think the answer is more labour regulation. On every occasion the answer is more labour regulation. Well, it is not the answer. It is not the answer in this matter and it is not the answer in so many of the other matters where this government has sought to force increased regulation on businesses and the community in this country. Whether it is the charitable sector or whether it is the business sector, there is never too much regulation for those of the Labor Party and those who sit on that side of the fence.
The Prime Minister has exempted this bill from a regulation impact statement for unspecified exceptional circumstances, with no substantiation of that. There is no explanation of that. Well, here is the explanation—the unions want it, she is going to do it for them and that is why this bill is in this place. That is why process has been set to one side because this Prime Minister is not prepared to count the cost of this measure. She does not want to know what the cost is. She just wants to do it for the union movement because that is who the true sponsors of this bill are. It is not clear exactly what those exceptional circumstances are, other than what I have just said. But certainly it is exceptional that a Prime Minister's enthusiasm to trash-talk skilled migration and demonise 457 visas and damage our international reputation on these matters is entirely regrettable.
Demographer Professor Peter McDonald, who was a member of the government's Ministerial Advisory Council on Skilled Migration, and arguably Australia's finest demographer, has labelled the Prime Minister's rhetoric on this matter 'nasty'. Those are his words, not mine. Those members opposite, when they go out into their electorates after this sitting fortnight, can explain these nasty measures to those skilled migrants who have come under the 457 program and are now contributing—as they always have been since day one—citizens of this country, why this government has such a problem with them and why they think the scheme that brought them to this country should now be choked off by these measures.
Labor's attack on skilled migration is nothing more than a desperate distraction. The bill requires further investigation into the regulatory impact these changes will impose on Australian business and industry, labour market efficiency and business productivity. We have sought to refer this matter to committees to ensure there are no adverse impacts arising that would prohibit business from accessing the skilled labour they need to support Australian jobs and investment.
This is nothing more than unsubstantiated assertions from the government that sits behind this bill. The first of those is the 10,000 rorts claim by Minister O'Connor. He simply made it up. He pulled it out of thin air mid-interview. There is no substantiation for this figure of 10,000 457 visa rorts. This minister is the boy who cried rort on this issue. He has been unable to substantiate his outrageous claims. When asked at a Senate inquiry on this matter, Dr Wendy Southern, a senior official of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the deputy secretary of the policy and program management group—a highly respected public servant, I add—stated:
We certainly did not provide advice around a number of 10,000.
His own department has completely disowned him over these baseless claims he is making.
So where did the figure come from? The minister said later he made it up and was forced to backtrack. Department officials admit that, the very next day after the interview where the minister made up this claim, they had discussions with the minister 'around clarity'. When officials were asked what made the minister change his mind, DIAC's first assistant secretary of the migration and visa policy division, Mr Kukoc, said:
I am not in a position to provide advice in terms of what guided the minister to talk about that number.
I am not surprised. The minister cannot even talk about what led him to talk about that number. Mr Stephen Bolton, senior adviser in employment, education and training at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, gave evidence to a Senate hearing committee:
Never, to my knowledge, has a figure so high been raised.
… … …
There has never been any evidence given at any of the formal feedback structures that we participate in, or indeed our informal conversations with the department, of widespread abuse to the level claimed by the minister.
Mrs Anne O'Donoghue of the Law Council of Australia described it as 'an exaggeration of the situation'. Ms Angela Chan, National President of the Migration Institute of Australia, said:
We would only have the information that is provided through DIAC, and the statistics do not support either a 10,000 rort or a 100,000 rort.
When asked during the Senate inquiry into framework and operation of subclass 457 visas, enterprise migration agreements and regional migration agreements, not even Labor's union mates were able to save the day and produce raw data to back up the minister. Tony Sheldon, a well-known employer of 457s—almost as famous as the Prime Minister's own efforts in this area—has received just 24 complaints about 457 visas over the last two months since the federal Labor government began this smear campaign. They had received no specific complaints in the previous 10 months. Moreover, the TWU had not reported those 24 allegations to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Meanwhile, the ACTU claimed they had received allegations of rorting relating to around 150 individual cases. That is well short of the 10,000. The government was short by two votes on a vote last night. That is a much closer margin than this one. They said:
The usual practice is for the ACTU to refer complaints to the relevant union to follow up or to refer the visa holder to DIAC—
but would not say how many cases the union had actually passed on. They just said referrals happened 'where appropriate'. That is in spite of Mr Kukoc's testimony at estimates that 'the obligation is on the unions, if they have come across evidence, to pass that on to the department that is responsible for compliance in that area'.
Clearly, there is no evidence to back up the minister's claim of 10,000 rorts. Not even unions have been able to help the minister draw that long bow, but that has not stopped Labor from embarking on a shameful campaign to attack skilled migrants through their rhetoric and through the measures in this bill. This is a blatant area of hypocrisy. On 9 March 2012, Minister Bowen issued a press release that stated:
Skilled migrants deliver major benefits to the Australian economy in terms of contributing to economic growth and offsetting the impacts of an ageing population.
… … …
We know these workers can do the job and are ready to make a commitment to Australia …
Mr Bowen was right. He said on 10 May 2011 we need to ensure 'migration is shaped by Australia's economic needs, and the temporary business 457 visa is a key pillar in this approach.' They are the words of the former Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. He said:
The 457 visa program has proved to be highly responsive to labour market conditions.
On 3 September 2012, the minister said:
The subclass 457 visa allows businesses to employ overseas workers for up to 4 years in skilled occupations only.
… … …
The program cannot be used by a business as a substitute for training and employing Australian workers.
The Sunday Mail in Brisbane reported on 20 January 2013 a comment attributed to a spokesperson for immigration minister Bowen:
The government's first priority is always ensuring jobs for Australian workers. The 457 visa program is designed to address genuine labour shortages that cannot be met from the Australian labour market and we believe we have this balance right.
That was the offering from the minister's office on this matter. The minister's spokesperson went on to say it would be 'irresponsible' to shut down the 457 visa program, but that is the intent of these measures. They are union red tape designed to choke a skilled migration program that has delivered for Australia. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
Minister Burke, another cabinet minister, told The Australian Financial Review on 30 March, 'When there are genuine skills shortages, employers are able to quickly recruit temporary overseas workers to fill skills gaps and keep the economy growing.
This bill is based on a completely false premise. The government has been unable to substantiate this bill. That is why I move the following second reading amendment to the bill:
That all words after That be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
consideration of the bill not be concluded by the House until a:
(1) full research report is completed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship on the true incidence and nature of abuses and non-compliance within the 457 visas programme in comparison to other programmes to substantiate the requirement for the measures proposed in the bill;
(2) full consultation programme with industry and other stakeholders has been conducted by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship on the impacts of the measures contained in the bill; and
(3) regulatory impact statement has been completed by the Government in relation to Schedule 2 of the bill relating to the proposed labour market testing regime as required by the Office of Best Practice Regulation and the statement be submitted to the Parliament.
Madam Deputy Speaker, the amendment is seconded. The value of the 457 program is significant to this country and you do not go and choke it through the measures that this government has proposed here without having done your homework. Given that the government is not prepared to do that, despite our calls for them to do that since February-March this year, this parliament should do the work for them. That is why this second reading amendment is important. The government has not brought forward the evidence, the regulatory impact statement, and undertaken the consultation that is necessary to justify or allow this House or the other place to consider the measures that are put forward in this bill, so this amendment is demanding that the government do that homework.
We see so often in this place with this government's 'ready, aim, fire' approach to legislation how often they get it wrong. Just last night in this place we were debating another bill where the government had so badly got it wrong the first time they had to bring in amendments last night to clean up their earlier mess, despite the fact the coalition had pointed them out to them at that time. We are doing it again here. We are saying: 'You have not thought this through, you have not done the consultation, you have not substantiated your case, you have not done what even this parliament requires in terms of process.' And you have not completed the regulatory impact statement because, as I said before, I suspect you just do not want to know.
The government does not want to know because there is one agenda here, and that is: 'Let's ram this through before the election because that is what our union mates want.' And when that is on the agenda, this government drops everything. That is what gets them moving. Perhaps we should get the unions to encourage them to stop the boats, maybe they will do something about it then—because when the unions want them to do this they can't move quickly enough!
As at 30 April 2013, there are 108,810 primary 457 visa holders in Australia. That is less than one per cent of the Australian workforce, despite the fact that that is a 20 per cent increase on the same number of 457 visa holders in Australia at this time last year. The 457 visa program is the dominant component of Australia's temporary skilled migration program. It is designed to provide a swift response to changes in demand for skilled and semiskilled workers where that demand cannot be met from within the Australian workforce. 457s are coalition policy: we designed them, we introduced them. They are a successful part of our very successful skilled migration program, which at least on this side we still believe in. We still stand by skilled migration. Those decades of bipartisanship on that issue vanished in February when the government went on this attack on skilled migration. 457 visa holders pay their own way; they make a contribution from day one. They are exactly the sort of migrants that we want to come to this country and should encourage. They even pay their own healthcare costs. They do not have access to welfare and in my home state they even pay to send their kids to public schools.
Research has shown that temporary skilled migration and 457 skilled migration visas are vital to the operation of the Australian labour market delivering significant economic benefits to the economy and the living standards of all Australians. 457 skilled migration visas have been vital in meeting skill shortages in regional locations and are an important component of state and territory migration plans for occupations such as doctors and nurses in regional Australia.
A government member interjecting—
These are the people who are coming—doctors and nurses to support the health system in regional Australia. Apparently they are the ones we have to stop. Health care and social services accounted for 10 per cent of 457 visas granted so far in 2012-13 across the country. By contrast, mining accounted for just 6.6 per cent and has actually declined by 24½ per cent compared to last year. The great majority of 457 visas issued today are for people in higher skills occupations, such as accountants, managers, engineers, ICT professionals, doctors and nurses, where there is—as far as I am aware, and certainly the minister cannot put anything forward to substantiate anything different—little, if any, evidence of any abuse in the program.
The top five citizenship countries for applications granted to May 2012-13 were: India, with 22,170 grants; the United Kingdom, with 20,520; Ireland, with 8,680; the Philippines, with 6,690; the United States, with 5,830; and China, sixth, with 5,350. This is a program that is working well. According to Access Economics estimates, the 90,120 entrants on 457 visas in 2010-11 will generate $2.2 billion over three years or more and $27,000 each.
The members for, say, Parramatta, Reid and Greenway may want to explain to the large segments of their electorates where there is a substantial Indian community why this government is saying that 457 holders are visa rorters and abusers, given that one in five 457 visas are held by people of Indian citizenship and the highest rate of growth in 457s is for people of Indian citizenship. The minister's claim has been: 'We know they're rorting because the number of claims and applications is growing and they're growing faster than the rate of employment.' The community of people who are applying for 457s, who have one in five of the 457s given and have the highest rate of growth of 457s are people of Indian citizenship. So who are you claiming are rorting the system? Sorry, through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I ask: who is the government claiming these 10,000 rorters are? Given that one in five are people of Indian citizenship, is that what they are suggesting? If they are, they should come clean about it, be honest and explain that to the people of their electorates, who know.
This is a program that delivers for Australia. These are people who come to this country to contribute from day one, whether they are of Indian nationality, of Chinese nationality or of Filipino nationality. They come and they work and they contribute, and the vast majority increasingly go on to be permanent residents of this country. I can think of no better migrant to Australia than one who comes via this program, one who comes on a 457 and offers their skills, and for four years demonstrates their capacity to contribute and then applies for permanent residence and goes on to citizenship. The rate of unemployment of people in the employer-sponsored permanent migration program and those who come through 457s is 0.5 per cent. That is the achievement. Not only that, they add value by the skills they bring to the country and the transfer that takes place.
That occurs in other countries as well. I refer the House to a paper by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and the Partnership for a New American Economy. They found that two primary categories of temporary foreign workers in the US are associated with strong job creation for Americans. The study found that states with greater numbers of temporary workers in the H1B program for skilled workers and the H2B program for less skilled nonagricultural workers had higher employment amongst US natives. Adding 100 H1B workers created additional 183 jobs for US citizens; adding 100 H2B visa class workers created 464 jobs for Americans.
This program creates jobs for Australians. It brings the skills that enable business to continue. How many jobs do you think Australians get if the business closes? That is the question I pose through the Deputy Speaker to the House. How many jobs do you think are going to be there if businesses go bust because they cannot get the people they need to meet the contracts and commitments they have?
But what this government is doing through this measure is seeking, at the behest of the unions, to tie this matter up in union red tape and to choke this program's contribution to Australia. It chokes the appreciation that we have of the contribution of skilled migrants to this country. The members on that side of the House should be ashamed of this measure. Bipartisanship ended on skilled migration the day that this Minister for Immigration and Citizenship came into office and handed control of the migration policy of this country to the unions. Bipartisanship ended on that day.
The coalition stands by skilled migration. It stands by the contribution of the thousands and millions of skilled migrants who have built this country, and we stand here in support of them in opposing this bill by a government that is trying to ram things through for their union mates. They have not done their homework. They refuse to do their homework. They are trying to rush this through in the last, dying two weeks of this parliament as a bid to pay off their union mates before the election is held. (Time expired)
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Cook has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.
Debate (on motion by Ms King) adjourned.
Leave granted for second reading debate to resume at a later hour this day.